Book & Movie Reviews:
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz starts out The Case for Israel by explaining that he supports Israel because he favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, because he is a civil libertarian, a feminist, an environmentalist, a gay rights supporter and a lover of peace who has spent his life fighting for human rights. This is the profile of someone you might expect to be an advocate for Israel, but many times, especially on college campuses, the liberal, progressives with these same beliefs are anti-Israel and support Palestinians who do not share any of these beliefs.
One of the older generation who also sees no contradiction with being a proponent of human rights and a supporter of the Palestinians is Jimmy Carter, whose vicious attacks on Israel in his book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, helped provoke Dershowitz to make The Case for Israel. The film starts with Carter’s appearance at Brandeis University to publicize his book. Dershowitz had challenged Carter to a debate, but Carter refused and so Dershowitz had to speak separately. The film begins with his response to Carter.
Though Dershowitz is the main attraction of the film, a mix of short interviews is also included with historians such as Benny Morris and Michael Oren and politicians such as Benjamin Netanyahu. The review copy also had a distracting musical background.
The film does a good job of responding to many canards, such as the claim that Israelis are colonialists, but a disproportionate amount of time is spent on the Jewish connection to the land in the Bible and ancient history, which are probably the least persuasive parts of the case for Israel to the young Americans the film is targeting.
Morris and Oren go through much of the history of Israel through 1948 and this is definitely useful for those who have limited background knowledge. Morris gives a too short explanation of the refugee issue, which is one of his areas of expertise. Dershowitz elaborates a bit and also brings up the often forgotten matter of the Jews who became refugees from Arab lands.
The former chief justice of Israel’s Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, provides an excellent summary of how the court operates and the fact that it is open to all. Dershowitz says the Israeli court is actually better than the U.S. court. Dershowitz notes that the court strikes a balance between law, security and human rights and hears 300 cases each year initiated by Palestinians in the territories. In fact, Palestinian can petition directly to Israel’s High Court.
The film also offers an explanation for Israel’s decision to build the security fence. Natan Sharansky says that he lived behind the Berlin Wall and explains the difference between the Communist barrier and Israel’s. One of the benefits of the movie over the book is that it is possible to see the fence and the wall. The spokesperson the producers chose to talk about the issue, however, was not as articulate as many others they could have found.
Another topic that was much more powerful on film was the situation in Sderot. Seeing the shelters and the way the citizens live under threat of rocket attacks is especially important following the distorted media coverage of Operation Cast Lead.
One of Israel’s more controversial policies is to assassinate terrorists. An Israel Air Force commander explains the decision making involved in determining whether to launch a missile strike and the feeling of responsibility to behave morally. Israeli commanders, he says, have a difficult moral dilemma of deciding whether to kill Palestinians or allow Israelis to be killed.
Dershowitz sometimes appears in front of a class, other times he is shown giving speeches and conducting some of the interviews. On Israel, Dershowitz comes across hawkish despite his liberal credentials and one potential problem for reaching a broad audience is that a large number of the people interviewed on camera are associated with the Israeli right, such as The Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold and Netanyahu.
The film consists primarily of Jews and that is the most likely audience as well, so it may be a case of preaching to the choir. This certainly has some value, but it comes across as another pro-Israel documentary. It might have been more effective if it had been more of what I expected, that is, a legal brief for Israel by Dershowitz.
Despite these minor shortcomings, The Case for Israel is an important educational tool and the producers could have found no more articulate or passionate person to make the case than Alan Dershowitz.